Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


Holidays on Horseback at Tryon Resort: A Pony for Every Stocking

by Zenda Douglas • images courtesy Tryon Resort, Tryon International Equestrian Center, Frantz Photography

Who, as a child, never dreamed of receiving a real, live pony for Christmas or other winter holiday? Most of us did and had not a bit of concern that it wouldn’t fit down the chimney, in our stocking, or even inside our house. Our dreams were replete with sounds of clopping, fast runners, flowing manes, championship ribbons, and warm nuzzles. But as colts and phillies grow up, so do children. Childhood dreams may fade, and perhaps become a little more practical, but they never really leave us. No matter how far we’ve roamed away from these childhood wishes, or if we’ve managed to retain the love and thrill of horses in our lives, there is a place—a magnificent place—where we can go to enjoy and honor horses, their regal beauty and their skill.

Opened in June 2014, Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) is set amid the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers expansive scenic mountain views. Its location in Mill Spring, North Carolina, was strategically chosen to leverage the long-standing equestrian tradition of the area. TIEC stands as one of the world’s premier equestrian lifestyle destinations, taking its place among iconic destinations such as Normandy, Stockholm, Rome, and Aachen as host to equestrian sport’s most distinguished championships.

A spring, summer, and fall haven for equestrian competitors and enthusiasts, TIEC features world-class facilities for hunter/jumper, dressage, and eventing competitions. Twelve riding arenas and 1,200 permanent horse stalls accommodate 42 weeks of competition. Spectator seating—much of which is protected from the weather—allows visitors to comfortably monitor and appreciate the horses and riders they come to see.

TIEC is the signature piece of Tryon Resort, which spreads out over 1,600 acres of a rural area that is located within an hour of the bustling cities of Asheville, Charlotte, and Greenville. Tryon Resort is a year-round destination for travelers and guests seeking diverse cuisine, shopping, family entertainment, and a unique getaway experience.

The month of November ushers in a host of events and activities that will begin to turn Tryon Resort into a winterland playground for the holiday season. Returning this year is the Festival of the Hunt, several days of competitive fox hunting fun that culminates with the TIEC Field Hunter Championships. A Festival of the Hunt Gala, open to the public, will celebrate the week’s activities. 

Tryon Resort is the place to be on Thanksgiving Day, when a scrumptious holiday feast is served. Stay in place to enjoy December’s Winterfest Saturdays, when kids can join Santa for a pancake breakfast and Mrs. Claus for story time. There will be classic Christmas movies, time to decorate cookies, and free rides on TIEC’s Venetian carousel. Adults get in on the fun with the Christmas Eve EVE Ugly Sweater Contest. Ring in the New Year by being on the scene for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Equestrian sport carries a centuries-long reputation for being an elitist pursuit available only to affluent and well-positioned individuals and families. Owning a horse, not to mention having leisure time, was financially prohibitive for many people, and participation in the sport was essentially closed to all but the rich and fortunate. The partners behind Tryon Resort have, from the beginning, set out to challenge that perception, indeed reality, of equestrian sport, however. They desired to create a property accessible to all people, one that educates the public about horses and encourages widespread participation in equestrian sports.

To that goal, much effort has been extended to make Tryon Resort open and affordable with amenities, activities, and events that have a wide appeal. As a result, there is no admission fee to enter the property, and many events, like the very popular signature Saturday Night Lights—featuring everything from live bands and performances to carousel and pony rides and world-class equestrian competitions—are free. The only requirement for these is an interest in and love of horses. Looking around and horse-gazing are real activities.

Still, at the heart of equestrian sport is competition. In 2018, TIEC will shine on the international stage as host to the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). Administered by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the worldwide governing body of equestrian sport, WEG is the major international championship event for the eight core equestrian disciplines of show jumping, dressage and para-equestrian dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting, and reining. More than 500,000 people are expected to attend the 12-day event to be held at Tryon Resort.

Tryon Resort includes amenities that are very close to the TIEC grounds. Named one of the “Best Places to Play” by Golf Digest, Cleghorn Golf and Sports Club is available to Tryon Resort guests, and membership is open to the public. The Club features a George Cobb-designed, exceptional 18-hole course, as well as a pool, basketball court, tennis courts, and other outdoor games. The Cleghorn Gun Club offers world-class clay pigeon shooting spread out over a 15-station course positioned for every shooter level. Future expansion calls for a water park and fitness center.

Shoppers will delight at all the unique opportunities that exist among Tryon Resort’s shops and stores. Easily found is everything from sundries to stock home base to the perfect pair of boots. Visitors can meander through Dover Saddlery to explore their outstanding selection of equestrian lifestyle merchandise and tack. Tryon Resort’s annual Christmas Market features unique arts and craft vendors.

Home away from home is special to all guests—riders, workers, spectators, vacationers, individuals, families, and groups—and Tryon Resort has been thoughtful and innovative in designing housing accommodations that fit perfectly within the landscape of rolling hills and mountains and the equestrian lifestyle.

Fifteen three- or five-bedroom cabins follow alongside the river that runs throughout the property, each one well appointed, comfortable, and spacious. Vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, and roomy screened porches guarantee the cabins are warm and cozy. Thoroughly modern electronics, kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms make convenience a given. Forty ‘tiny house’ cottages create a village of compact luxury. Also on the property is the 50-room Stable House Inn, in addition to luxurious rental homes, and there are more than 100 RV spots with full hookups.

Nearby, the historic Lodge on Lake Lure, owned by Tryon Resort, offers a lakeside retreat combining Southern hospitality with a rustic flair. Seventeen rooms and indoor and outdoor event space, both beautiful, make the Lodge on Lake Lure a much sought-after location for weddings, family reunions, or group events. Plans are currently underway to build two new luxury hotels on the Tryon Resort property as well.

Hay Is for Horses

Horses like to eat a steady diet of hay, grass, grains, and the occasional apple. Every day. All the time. But people like to shake it up a bit and enjoy a wide variety of food. Fortunately, for visitors and guests of Tryon Resort, food options are plentiful. And not just ordinary food, but cuisine, and not just cuisine, but diverse and creative cuisine. The food scene here is continuously growing; numerous new restaurants have opened up since the Resort’s opening. Most of them are clustered together in the TIEC village, making it unnecessary to leave the property in search of dining options. Below are a few of the eating establishments guests can reach on foot, and they᾿re all open to the public.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week ... just what the crowd expects from Roger’s Diner. What may come as something of a surprise from this authentic, 50s-inspired diner is just how good the food is. Think all-day breakfast, a menu of Southern classics and farm-to-table dishes all made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. From a veggie omelet to awesome onion rings to pot roast, everyone will find something on the menu with their name on it.

For fine dining without the fancy dress code, capture a seat at Legends Grille. The menu is artful and the presentation is elegant. Come back often to get to know the extensive, creatively-designed menu. The horseradish encrusted wild salmon is sautéed and served with orange-vodka and dill broth is masterful. The lobster risotto is the perfect texture, decorated with flavorful asparagus tips and English peas. Claim a seat in the covered Legends Club pavilion for the best views of every grand prix competition.

To find delicately handcrafted, edible works of art, visit Blue Ginger Sushi & Noodles, where you’ll enjoy the freshest seafood prepared using locally-sourced ingredients. The Japanese cuisine offers sushimi and traditional sushi, noodles, and Sake and offers a large selection of creative roll combinations.

An entertainment event may be the reason visitors first visit Campagna, but what brings them back time and time again are the hearty Italian dishes in a classic Italian setting. Enjoy a cocktail from the restaurant’s full bar before ordering from the appealing menu. Will it be wood-fired pizzas or the Melanzane Alla Jennifer with roasted eggplant rolled with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese? Perhaps the Linguine Al Gamberi prepared with fresh shrimp and zucchini in an olive oil and garlic sauce suits your fancy. This menu is fun to ponder over.

The General Store is an on-site store and grocery with anything you could need for your convenience during your time at TIEC, including groceries, toiletries, house supplies, craft beer, wine, coffee, donuts, and more. Need to cool down? Stop by the General Store and try the famous hand-dipped ice cream.

Tryon Resort is surrounded by a number of small towns scattered across this rural, mountainous area. Guests seeking a day trip or two can surely find what they’re looking for on the main streets of Tryon, Landrum, Saluda, Hendersonville, Columbus, and Lake Lure. Each town is distinctive in its history and charm. Each has its own personality enhanced by unique small shops and stores. However, they all have two things in common—a love of horses (breeches and boots are welcome here) and good food. Here is a short list of some of the restaurants that visitors will want to add to their itineraries: Hare and Hound in Landrum, SC; Huckleberry’s in Tryon; Never Blue in Hendersonville; Purple Onion in Saluda; Wild Roots Café in Forest City; and the Tree Tops Restaurant at the Lodge at Lake Lure.

While out, plan to stop in, tour, and taste the wineries dotting the area, including: Green Creek Winery and Russian Chapel Hills Winery in Columbus; Mountain Brook Vineyards and Overmountain Vineyards in Tryon; and Parker-Binns Vineyard in Mill Spring. Be sure to bring a designated driver along, and enjoy the ride!